Port Cros - Close to paradise
Port-Cros National Park is a remote island and marine national park found off the coast of Toulon. All 690 acres of land on the island are protected and combine to make a picture-perfect landscape. Turquoise lapping water, lush green forest, and the Mediterranean sun all combine to make Port-Cros a paradise.
The island forms part of the Mediterranean island group known as the Illes d’Hyeres. It is the neighboring island of Ile du Levant.
Formerly the island of Port-Cros went by ‘Messea’ meaning ‘Middle Island’ in ancient Greek. While the island’s name derives from Greek origins, Roman tombs found dotted across the land suggest there may have once been a Roman colony on the island. Over the centuries, Port Cros passed from one hand to another. Finally, the Henry family acquired it in the 19th century. In the decades that followed, the island would come under multiple attacks. During World War II, the German garrison fought off American and Canadian attackers for two days before surrendering the island on 17th August 1944.
When Madame Henry died in 1966, she left the island to the French government. She instructed them to transform it into a National Park. In 1963, Port-Cros became a registered national park. Today it’s open to the general public all year round and visitors get to admire the park in its natural state.
Things to Do
Port-Cros is famous for its clear blue waters and rocky coastline. Subsequently, scuba diving, snorkeling, and hiking are three of the most popular past times. When it comes to hiking, there are several routes to choose from. All hikes on the island vary in difficulty and offer different terrain.
If you’re a new hiker and up for a challenge, opt to hike along the South-West coast. You’ll find yourself surrounded by flora as the park is home to over 600 species of plant. This route is also known as the Circuit des Cretes and takes in the very best of the islands forest, coastline, and rocky outcrops. Start from Port Cros town center and head south on a circular route that should take around 4-hours and ranks medium on the difficulty scale.
To immerse yourself in more plant life, join the Sentier des Plants route, an aromatic trail that leads through fields of wild lavender fields. The course is around 2.5 miles long and leads to Plage de la Palud beach on the islands northern coast. As you walk, keep your eyes peeled for the small plaques dotted along the trail. Each plaque contains information on the variety of plant species in the vicinity.
Alternatively, head to the northern coast of the island and visit Fort de l’Estissac on foot. This 17th-century fort became under attack by the English during WWI, yet the remains of the tower are still intact today. If you’re interested in history, this route comes highly recommended.
After a long day hiking around the island, you might want to retire to a soft sand beach and enjoy the sunset. Plage de la Palud is the ideal destination to relax come evening, and even though it’s a 45-minute walk from Port Cros town center, it’s worth the visit. If your feet are weary from a day of walking, consider renting a boat and sailing to the cove for an afternoon. The beach is particularly beautiful at sunset.
Best dives in Port-Cros National Park
The waters around Port-Cros island make for some fantastic diving! Dive sites in the vicinity include shipwrecks and dramatic drop-offs, both of which teem with a diverse array of marine life. Expect to see barracudas, nudibranchs, octopi, crabs, and more when diving into the waters of this pristine nature reserve.
One of the island’s most popular dive sites is La Gabinière. This rocky islet sits at the heart of the most important marine reserve in Europe and is home to dense and diverse marine life. The site is so big that you can split it into three separate dives, one of which is considered technical due to the great depth and strong current. Snappers, scorpionfish, and sea spiders are just some of La Gabinière’s native residents.
If you’re a beginner scuba diver, consider forgoing La Gabinère and heading Les Dalles de Bagad. This particular dive site has a maximum depth of 12 meters and is mostly sheltered from the wind. More experienced divers can explore the strong currents of La Pointe de la Croix dive site. With this in mind, note that there a handful of scuba diving schools in Toulon and along the coast. All schools cater to new divers and well-seasoned divers looking to improve their skills.
Dining on Port-Cros
There are a handful of restaurants in the port area of Port-Cros if you’re on the island and looking to dine. However, they’re not always open. For this reason, we’d recommend that you take care of your own refreshments. Whatsmore, you’ll likely want to leave Port-Cros town behind and head deeper into the island. With this in mind, consider packing a picnic. Alternatively, bring food from the mainland to enjoy on your travels. For the ultimate experience on the island, charter a yacht, and enjoy a cooked lunch on the deck from your mooring.
As one of only ten national parks in France, and the first land-based and aquatic park in Europe, Port Cro has a lot to live up to. Clearly the park has excelled itself. In spite of being a popular day-trip destination for visitors of the French Riviera, it has also managed to retain its original charm and beauty.
Ferries depart to Port-Cros from Saint-Pierre Marina in Hyeres. Departure times vary depending on the time of year and the weather conditions on the day. If you’re planning a trip to the national park, why not let FranceRent handle your transfers? That way, you can rest easy that your vacation will run smoothly. You just have to sit back and enjoy the comforts of luxury travel. Want to arrive on Port-Cros island in style? Consider chartering a yacht for the day or landing in Hyeres in a private helicopter.
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